The Girl and the Sheep Who Took the Town (and Homecoming Court) by Storm

Esther the sheep was loved as a daughter and treated as a queen.

Editor’s Note: America’s Best Pet Pals is a nationwide search for the animal friendships that make you laugh, cry, and purr. Reader’s Digest honors the best in pet friendship in print, online, and on social media. This is the winner in our “Rainbow Bridge” category. To see winners in other categories and our full list of finalists, go to rd.com/petpals.

I woke up at 3 a.m. the night Esther came to live with us. I stood at the top of the stairs listening for her bleating coming from the basement below. Esther was a day-old orphaned lamb. Bum lambs, as they’re called, only have a 50-50 chance of living through their first night. I grew anxious from silence.

“Oh no, oh no,” I thought, “Grace will be devastated.” Thought new in our home, Esther was already very established in my teenage daughter’s heart.

I zipped downstairs fearing the worst. I apprehensively approached the enclosure Grace built for Esther. There, nestled in the straw, sleeping peacefully with baby Esther was teenage Grace. No wonder Esther wasn’t bleating. She had found her mama.

Grace sleeping with the baby goatCourtesy Teresa Hislop

Grace and Esther slept together every night for the next month. They moved from straw on the basement floor to sheets on Grace’s bed, which Grace washed daily. Grace convinced her teacher to let Esther come to school with her, and her parents to let Esther come to Las Vegas on family vacation. Oddities are the norm in Las Vegas, but baby Esther strolling the boulevard resulted in more than a few fan photos.

Esther, biologically a Merino sheep, considers herself a human. Grace’s human, to be exact. She’d enter the house at will, jumping through an open window if no one was gracious enough to open the door for her. She was Grace’s shadow—and echo. When Grace left (heaven forbid!), all she had to do was “baaaaa” when she returned for Esther to come running and bleating her response.

RELATED: This Rescue Dog Helps His Owner Nurse Baby Hummingbirds Back to Health

Grace on stage with Esther the goat at HomecomingCourtesy Teresa Hislop

Little Esther soon became Big Esther, though she was forever Grace’s baby. Once, Grace dressed her in a red cloak and took her trick-or-treating as Little Red Riding Hood. The neighbors invited them inside, where Esther proceeded to nibble on their geraniums and headbutt their standard poodle.

Grace and Esther were a common sight on the streets of Roy, Utah—and the halls of Roy High. Most young ladies in the homecoming court chose boyfriends, brothers, or fathers to escort them across the stage. Grace chose Esther. As if bringing a wooly companion into the auditorium wasn’t risky enough, Grace left Esther with a student body officer on the other side of the stage, then instructed the officer to let her go.

A sheep loose on stage in front of 600 high school students: What could possibly go wrong? Nothing. Esther performed like the queen she was. Grace “baaa-ed” at Esther and Esther “baaa-ed” right back. The two happily met at center stage.

Grace hugs her goat, EstherCourtesy Teresa Hislop

Big Esther became Mama Esther, and what a mama she was! Tough and tender, she was not afraid to knock any non-sheep, non-Grace thing that came too close. Still, she was gentle as a lamb when nuzzling her babies. During her second pregnancy, we almost lost her, but she rebounded the next year and had triplets named Sam, Sarah, and Sariah.

Grace moved to Salt Lake City to attend the University of Utah. Esther may have been out of sight, but she was never out of mind. In fact, Grace would call me and say, “I came to Roy last night but didn’t go in the house. I just needed an Esther fix, so I went to the pasture and hung out with her for an hour.”

Indeed, theirs was a bond to remember. Sadly, in February 2021, it became just that. Their love changed from an active, hands- and hugs-on relationship to one based on heartwarming memories after Esther passed away from birthing complications.

Family is forever, and Esther is family. She is waiting for Grace on the other side of the veil that separates the living from the next life to come. When Grace passes through, she’ll “baaa,” Esther will “baaa” back, and they’ll run to each other, happily reuniting.